This month’s speaker talks about a very misunderstood mental illness: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I say misunderstood because there’s an incorrect notion that keeping your desk tidy or cleaning your room means you have OCD. I’m afraid it’s not as simple as that.
I suggest that you don’t try to guess who this speaker is, don’t give into judgement, just read.
Just for a moment, sit down somewhere in total silence, and remember something that you forgot to do today. Picture yourself doing whatever that was, and feeling satisfied that it’s over. Now, I think about something that you’d never think of doing. Whether that be organizing everything you see into the same order or even something as crazy as murdering someone you know, just think about completing that action. Now imagine repeating this process of thinking, every couple of minutes, maximum a couple of hours. That is what’s like to live with OCD.
Having obsessive-compulsive disorder is a process of never-ending spiral staircases. What I mean by that is, once I’m locked onto a thought, it becomes the only thought that I think about for a while. But it’s not the fact that I get stuck on these thoughts that are truly the problem. It’s what I think about. My OCD, much like many others’, is a chameleon. It’ll take the form of whatever it wishes once it gets bored of a specific thought. For example, some people may switch from compulsive cleaning to obsessive organizing. For almost a year now, I have been suffering from a subset of OCD named Suicidal OCD. It’s a form of Obsessive-compulsive where instead of habitually cleaning or washing my hands (two compulsions I have also had issues with in the past), I find myself routinely, without my want, thinking about suicide. Whether that be imagining ways of self-injury, or simply having the fear of being alone because I’m afraid I’ll try to kill myself. At times, it is easy to pass off and with some clear thinking and breathing, it’ll pass after a few minutes. Other times, it is debilitating to the point where I have to remove the sight of any sharp objects and balconies or any other possibly dangerous situation out of fear that I will act upon my thoughts.
When I was around six, I had the compulsive need to check specific areas, such as doors and windows. I always counted my steps across the hall (making sure it was within 10-15 steps) and always walked up the stairs starting with my left foot and walked down the stairs leading with my right foot. If I didn’t, I would restart the process. These were early signs of my compulsive need to accomplish tasks in very specific ways. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I realized that I had OCD. I was going through a particularly tough time and found myself obsessively cleaning my hands. The only thing that I could think about was the idea that my hands were dirty. And so naturally, I washed my hands. Over and over again, until my hands starting to burn red.
Through therapy and medication, I’ve been able to develop habits that help me deal with my obsessions. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been especially helpful in encouraging me to step past my anxieties. However, one of the best ways I’ve dealt with my struggles personally is through creating art. From an early age, I’ve been writing and making music. Through these, I’ve been able to track my natural progress of growth and understand what makes me important to myself as a human being. As long as I keep creating things I enjoy, there is no reason to let my mental illness hold me back. Simply because I’ve learned that OCD is so much less about your obsessions controlling you, and more about you letting them control you. I’ve learned to remove that power and respect the opportunities I’ve been given to live now. Creating music and writing allows me to enter a mindset where I am in full control of what I want, as opposed to any other sensations. It’s satisfying knowing that I have created something with the full knowledge that it was what I wanted, and I have worked hard to achieve it. With the constant cycle of my mental illness invading my brain, it’s important that I have another, more positive cycle that allows me to express myself and make decisions.
One of the biggest things that many people get wrong about OCD and many other disorders as well, is that they believe that these illnesses are continuous. That anyone who suffers from mental illnesses feels the extent of them every minute of every day. And to be honest, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Even when I was suffering heavily from my obsessions, I still had days where I could go on and on without having to worry about obsessing over self-injury or imagining impossibles. And that is something that I owe to my family, friends, and the experiences of life in general. It doesn’t annoy me per se, as others who don’t know what people who have mental illnesses go through, shouldn’t exactly be expected to know everything about OCD, depression, or any other mental illnesses. It’s unrealistic to set an expectation of wisdom and knowledge, for someone who has never experienced what they are ‘supposed’ to know about.
Finally, it’s important to realise that OCD may define me, but it is not me. And that goes for anyone with any mental illness. Sure, it may affect your behaviour and maybe even your personality, but our mental illnesses never influence what we value and appreciate. I may be struggling with accepting myself, but I will never struggle with knowing who I want to be around, and the things I want to do. OCD is not an obstacle. It’s a reason to realize what it is that I want, and to keep going.